The global outbreak of the COVID-19 has resulted in a lockdown and travel ban all around the world. It has also disrupted the global supply chains and left the world with material shortage issues. The manufacturing industry, the aviation industry, and the automotive industry are some of the major industries that were heavily affected by this supply chain disruption.
Amidst this chaos, every country right now is looking for in-house solutions to cater to their raw material needs and requirements. But, industries have to entirely redesign their infrastructure to implement these in-house solutions, as the existing infrastructures are not capable of meeting the criteria for new technologies.
After the end of the pandemic, things will not return to normal, industries will not be the same either. The sectors that will see this pandemic as an opportunity to innovate their processes will thrive in the post-pandemic world.
Due to the global travel ban, the aviation industry has taken the biggest hit causing a complete shutdown in international and domestic flights. It is expected that airport managing companies in Europe will experience a loss of $15.4 billion due to the pandemic.
The airlines and airport managing companies have started to seek bailout packages from the government to survive, but government bailout packages will not entirely solve the problem. These industries have to innovate their approach and implement efficient processes to cut costs and stay afloat.
That is why many aviation companies have started to invest their resources in additive manufacturing technology because this technology not only can cut costs but also make the supply chain more efficient and it can be the true savior of the aviation industry.
Implementation of Additive Manufacturing in the Aviation Industry
Mini Factories in Hangers
Additive manufacturing systems are compact and can be installed in smaller areas. These systems can work efficiently to manufacture high-performance tools and replacement-parts for the airplanes in the hangers itself. It reduces the dependency on a third party supplier, increases supply chain efficiency, and reduces cost.
Etihad Airways already started a partnership with Bigrep in 2018 to develop additive manufacturing mini-plants in their home base in Abu Dhabi, so that they can build 3D printed parts for airplanes on-site on demand.
In-House Quality Control
For critical industries like aviation, a marginal error in production can be devastating. With the help of an in-house additive manufacturing unit, the quality of the materials can be strictly monitored. This will also help reduce the cost by eliminating the supply chain and the middle man and increase productivity by reducing production time.
In-house additive manufacturing facilities help manufacture customized jigs and fixtures, customized cutting tools, and maintenance parts to increase production efficiency. Also, it can make custom drill guides, test blocks to streamline the quality control process.
Small-Batch Manufacturing Capability
In the aviation industry, small batches of highly customized parts are always required, unlike other sectors where mass-production is the norm.
For these reasons, the manufacturing of airplane parts is costly as they cannot take advantage of the economy of scale.
However, this is the ideal problem additive manufacturing can solve. With additive manufacturing, low volume one-off parts can be manufactured at a low cost.
Flight Ready Parts
A lot of parts manufactured from the 3D printers are flight-ready and can be directly fitted into the aircraft. That means, if you have the digital design, those parts can be easily printed using additive manufacturing.
You don’t need to stock these parts in the warehouse. It can save a large portion of warehouse cost, maintenance cost, and time.
Recently VELO3D, a 3D printing manufacturing company, collaborated with Boom Supersonic to make 3D printed parts that will be installed in the aircraft directly, without any post-processing of the parts.
The Benefit of Additive Manufacturing in the Aviation Industry
Quicker Product Development
Additive manufacturing is known for its capability to quickly manufacture intricate designs with precision. It eliminates the need for different tools and reduces the time of manufacturing.
Part Reduction and Weight Reduction
Another advantage of additive manufacturing is that it helps to reduce the part counts of aircraft.
GE LEAP engine fuel nozzle is one of the finest examples of this. Previously the GE nozzles were made by welding 20 different parts into one. But with additive manufacturing technology, number of pieces in fuel nozzle was reduced from 20 to 1, and the weight was reduced by 25%.
Part reduction not only reduces the complexity of the product but also drastically reduces the weight. If we start integrating additive manufacturing into producing most parts in an aircraft, the compounded effect will lead to better fuel efficiency, durability, and cost-efficiency.
Use of Specialized Material
Expensive material like titanium is widely used in the aviation industry because these materials offer better strength and aerodynamic to the flight system.
However, manufacturing with traditional methods using these materials will lead to more wastage and increase the cost.
With additive manufacturing, intricate designs can be manufactured with maximum precision and minimum waste. It will save a lot of time and money for the company.
Reduce Storage Cost
Producing the parts in-house will have a direct impact on the storage cost. If you identify the parts that can be manufactured with additive manufacturing, those parts can be produced on-demand on-site. This frees up the storage facility, and companies can reduce the cost of warehousing.
The considerable impact additive manufacturing has on the weight, cost, and production time, if implemented correctly, it can improve the overall efficiency of the manufacturing process and save a ton of money for the airline companies.
Especially during this pandemic, companies have to make necessary changes in their business model to ensure their survival in the industry. Additive manufacturing can be the pathway to do that.